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Thankful Thursday

It’s been a very busy day, so here I am, late at night, writing today’s thanksgiving post. I’m ending my day on a thankful note and that’s a good way to finish up, isn’t it?

I’m thankful that God gives me energy to work hard. I’m thankful that he gives thoughts to think and words to speak. I’m thankful that he gives wisdom for planning and strength for doing.

I’m thankful that God kept me and my family safe as we went about our business today. 

I’m thankful that today’s big boiling dyeing disaster in the kitchen cleaned up pretty well. 

I’m thankful for open windows and summer breezes. I’m also thankful for the first fresh rhubarb picked and washed and waiting in the fridge for me to turn it into pie or crisp.

While I’m listing, let me say that I’m thankful for mosquito repellent. 

And I’m thankful for a comfortable bed at the end of the day.

Throughout this year I’m planning to post a few thoughts of thanksgiving each Thursday along with Kim at the Upward Call and others.


Christianity and Liberalism: Chapter 3

Guess what? I still don’t have a copy of Christianity and Liberalism. I first ordered it on May 12, and twice since UPS has returned my order to as “undeliverable.” On Tuesday a lovely man in the help department of told me that they’d been having problems with UPS shipments to the territories, and he could solve my problem (so he thought) by shipping my order express mail for free. It was all good until that night when Canada Post locked their workers out and the mail service in Canada stopped completely. So I’ve still got no book and I don’t know when or if I’ll ever have one. But I do have a PDF copy, and I’ve printed the chapter so I can still participate in Tim Challies’ Reading Classics Together.

This week’s chapter discusses the doctrines of God and man. These two doctrines, writes Machen,” are the two great presuppositions of the gospel. It follows then that any faith system that gets the doctrine of God and the doctrine of man fundamentally wrong is not really Christianity at all. What Machen shows us in this chapter is that on both of these points “modern liberalism is diametrically opposed to Christianity.” 

True Christianity teaches objective truth about God. God is not known merely through our feelings of him, but by what reveals about himself to us. Some modern liberals, however, consider it unnecessary to have any kind of concept of God in order to know him, but believe that feeling a sort of God-presence is enough.

Others among them say that it is only through the life of Jesus that we understand God’s character. In response to this, Machen argues that while it is true that the incarnate Christ revealed God, he revealed him against the backdrop of “the Old Testament heritage and of Jesus’ own teaching.” When Jesus says that those “who have seen me have seen the Father,” it is assumed that those who learn more of God from Jesus already have a concept of God. Jesus himself, Machen says, was a theist, and likewise, “at the very root of Christianity is the belief in the real existence of God.”

The one definitive term that you might find a liberal using in regards to God is “Father,” and even then, what they mean by the fatherhood of God is something completely different than what a Christian means by the it. God is not, according to true Christianity, just a kind of universal Father to all humankind. 

The gospel itself refers to something entirely different; the really distinctive New Testament teaching about the fatherhood of God concerns only those who have been brought into the household of faith. 

When summing up the section on the doctrine of God, Machen writes that modern liberalism may not be completely pantheistic, but it is certainly “pantheizing,” for it obscures the distinction between God and man, or God and the world. 

Modern liberalism pantheizes when it comes to the doctrine of man, too, because of its tendency to deny the creaturely limitations of mankind. What’s more, it minimizes the effects of sin. In true Christianity, the very starting point of faith is facing the reality of sin. Machen puts this common loss of consciousness of sin down to 

a mighty spiritual process which has been active during the past seventy-five years. … The change is nothing less than the substitution of paganism for Christianity as the dominant view of life. Seventy-five years ago, Western civilization, despite inconsistencies, was still predominantly Christian; today it is predominantly pagan.

Paganism has a high view of the human nature, whereas Christianity “is the religion of the broken heart.” It doesn’t end there, mind you, but it always starts with the consciousness of the depth of sin. And without the consciousness of sin, there is no meaningful call to repentance; without the consciousness of sin, there is no Christianity at all.

In both these areas, the doctrine of God and the doctrine of Man, what Machen calls “modern liberalism” stands in direct opposition to real Christianity. It’s not much different than the kind of belief that exists in some present day churches, although we might use another label for it. 

Next week’s chapter is on the Bible and I’m looking forward to it. Anyone want to place a bet on whether my book will be here by then?


To Grant Life and to Bring About Death

In 40 Questions About Christians and Biblical Law, Tom Schreiner answers a question about the purpose of the law:

From one perspective the law was intended to give life to Israel.Paul says in Romans 7:10 that “the commandment was intended for life” (my translation). If one kept the law, then the law would be a vehicle for life. If one looks at the law from this restricted perspective, then the law was given to grant life for those who observed it. Nevertheless, what Paul emphasizes repeatedly is that God sovereignly intended the law to reveal transgressions and to bring about death. Are these two perspectives contradictory? Not at all. It is simply a matter of looking at the purpose of the law from two different perspectives. From an immanent perspective, the law was intended to give life; but from a transcendent perspective, it was given to increase sin. The former is not falsified or trivialized by the latter. The promise of life through the law was frustrated by human sin, not by any defect in the law. 

The typical Jewish view was that the law was given to bring about life. In Judaism there was the proverb, “The more Torah the more life” (M. Aboth 2:7). This was the standard Jewish view…. Romans 7:10 reflects the same perspective, but Paul differs from his Jewish contemporaries in seeing a transcendent purpose to the law that is remarkably different. Jews typically believed that the law was given to counteract the sin Adam introduced into the world. Astonishingly, Paul argues that the law is not a solution but part of the problem: “Now the law came in to increase the trespass” (Rom. 5:20). The law at one level may have been given to bring life, but it actually failed miserably to do so and increased transgressions instead. Such is Paul’s argument in Romans 7:7-25. The content of the law is “holy and righteous and good” (Rom. 7:12). Nevertheless, the law has been co-opted by sin, so that sin has increased with the addition of the law. Sin has taken on the character of rebellion, in that commands forbidding particular actions, such as coveting, have actually promoted sin, because the command arouses the desire to do what is prohibited. The cancer that brings death should not be traced to the law but to the human being, who is dominated by the flesh.

I’ve never heard the terms immanent and transcendent used to describe two different ways to look at the law. I’m not sure what definitions of those words he’s using. I’d like to ask, if I could. 

Despite my uncertainty over the use of those terms, I think this explanation of the two perspectives on the purpose of the law is instructive. What do you think? Does it help? 


Theological Term of the Week

governmental theory of the atonement
The view of the atonement that maintains that the death of Christ does not strictly satisfy God’s justice, since God can relax the claims of the law as he pleases; he can also accept something less than perfect obedience (like faith, for instance, or imperfect obedience) as the basis for forgiveness of sin. The primary purpose of Christ’s death, then, is to show how abhorrent sin is in order to deter people from sinning so that moral order can be maintained in the world.

  • From J. Kenneth Grider, a proponent of a governmental theory of the atonement, on what it does not (and cannot) include

    The Governmental theory can not incorporate into itself the main elements of two major Atonement theories: the payment of a debt (Satisfaction) and Christ’s being punished (Punishment).

    Whereas Calvinists teach boldly that Christ paid the penalty for us-that He took our punishment-and believe their view to be biblical, it is altogether opposed to the teaching of Scripture. Neither the Hebrew Old Testament nor the Greek New Testament ever teach this view. The NIV, translated by Calvinists in the main, renders the Hebrew musar in Isa. 53:5 with “punishment,” which is unusual. The KJV, even though translated by 54 Calvinists, does not once use any form of the English word for “punishment” to describe what happened to Christ. Always the word is “suffering” or certain synonyms of that word. Scripture teaches that Christ suffered for us, not that He was punished for us. Three versions state 28 times that Christ suffered for us: the KAVA [1] , the NASB [2], and the NIV [3] ; and the RSV says it 27 times. [4]

    The reason Scripture teaches that Christ suffered for us in stead of being punished is in part, as mentioned earlier, because He was sinless and therefore guiltless. It is in part also because God the Father really does forgive us——whereas, if He punished Christ instead of us, He could not then have forgiven us. In Christ’s substitutionary punishment, justice would have been satisfied, precluding forgiveness. One cannot both punish and for give, surely.

    The other aspect of Atonement theory that the Governmental theory cannot incorporate into itself is that Christ’s death paid a debt for us. Even as one cannot punish and then also forgive, one cannot accept payment for a debt and still forgive the debt. Scripture indeed says, “You are not your own; you were bought at a price” (1 Cor. 6:19-20). This no doubt means that we are bought with the price of Christ’s suffering, not the price of a debt being paid for us. Neither a human being nor God, surely, can accept payment for a debt and still forgive the debt. And forgiveness, sheer forgiveness, is unique to Christianity, of all the religions, and must be protected.

  • On the main elements of the governmental theory of the atonement, from Systematic Theology by Charles Hodge: 

    1. That in the forgiveness of sin God is to be regarded neither as an offended party, nor as a creditor, nor as a master, but as a moral governor. A creditor can remit the debt due to him at pleasure; a master may punish or not punish as he sees fit; but a ruler must act, not according to his feelings or caprice, but with a view to the best interests of those under his authority. Grotius says that the overlooking the distinctions above indicated is the fundamental error of the Socinians. …

    2. The end of punishment is the prevention of crime, or the preservation of order and the promotion of the best interests of the community. …

    3. As a good governor cannot allow sin to be committed with immunity, God cannot pardon the sins of men without some adequate exhibition of his displeasure, and of his determination to punish it. This was the design of the sufferings and death of Christ. God punished sin in Him as an example. This example was the more impressive on account of the dignity of Christ’s person, and therefore in view of his death, God can consistently with the best interests of his government remit the penalty of the law in the case of penitent believers.

    4. Punishment, Grotius defined as suffering inflicted on account of sin. It need not be imposed on account of the personal demerit of the sufferer; nor with the design of satisfying justice, in the ordinary and proper sense of that word. It was enough that it should be on account of sin. As the sufferings of Christ were caused by our sins, insomuch as they were designed to render their remission consistent with the interest of God’s moral government, they fall within this comprehensive definition of the word punishment. Grotius, therefore, could say that Christ suffered the punishment of our sins, as his sufferings were an example of what sin deserved.

    5. The essence of the atonement, therefore, according to Grotius consisted in this, that the sufferings and death of Christ were designed as an exhibition of God’s displeasure against sin. They were intended to teach that in the estimation of God sin deserves to be punished, and, therefore, that the impenitent cannot escape the penalty due to their offences.

  • From Systematic Theology by Louis Berkhof, six objections to the governmental theory of the atonement.  

    1. It clearly rests upon certain false principles. According to it the law is not an expression of the essential nature of God, but only of His arbitrary will, and is therefore subject to change; and the aim of the so-called penalty is not to satisfy justice, but only to deter men from future offenses against the law.  

    2. While it may be said to contain a true element, namely, that the penalty inflicted on Christ is also instrumental in securing the interests of the divine government, it makes the mistake of substituting for the main purpose of the atonement on which can, in the light of Scripture, only be regarded as a subordinate purpose.

    3. It gives an unworthy representation of God. He originally threatens man, in order to deter him from transgression, and does not execute the threatened sentence, but substitutes something else for it in the punishment inflicted on Christ. And now He again threatens those who do not accept Christ. But how is it possible to have any assurance that He will actually carry out His threat?

    4. It is also contrary to Scripture, which certainly represents the atonement of Christ as a necessary revelation of the righteousness of God, as an execution of the penalty of the law, as a sacrifice by which God is reconciled to the sinner, and as the meritorious cause of the salvation of sinners.

    5. …[I]t fails to explain how Old Testament saints were saved. If the punishment inflicted on Christ was merely for the purpose of deterring men from sin, it had no retroactive significance. How then were people saved under the old dispensation; and how was the moral government of God maintained at that time?

    6. Finally, this theory, too, fails on its own principle. A real execution of the penalty might make a profound impression on the sinner, and might act as a real deterrent, if man’s sinning or not sinning were, even in his natural state, merely contingent on the human will, which it is not; but such an impression would hardly be made by a mere sham exhibition of justice, designed to show God’s high regard for the law.

Learn more:

  1. Theopedia: Governmental Theory of the Atonement
  2. Sam Storms: Grotius and the Governmental Theory of the Atonement
  3. William Sasser: Erroneous Theories of the Atonement (pdf)
  4. J. Gresham Machen: The Bible and the Cross
  5. Kim Riddlebarger: No Ordinary Death: Jesus Christ, the Propitiation for Our Sins

Related terms:

Filed under Defective Theology.

Do you have a term you’d like to see featured here as a Theological Term of the Week? If you email it to me, I’ll seriously consider using it, giving you credit for the suggestion and linking back to your blog when I do.

Clicking on the Theological Term graphic at the top of this post will take you to a list of all the previous theological terms in alphabetical order.


Round the Sphere Again: Questions Answered

Why a Cloud?
At the transfiguration; at the ascention; at the last judgment (Strawberry Rhubarb Theology).

What Words Should Be Capitalized in a Title?
There’s more than one right answer to this one (Grammar Girl).

I try to use the formatting suggested in the Chicago Manual of Style, mostly because it’s what I learned in school:

Capitalize the first word of the title, the last word of the title, and all nouns, pronouns, verbs, adverbs, adjectives, subordinating conjunctions, and a few conjunctions. Prepositions are only capitalized if they are used adjectivally or adverbially. For example you’d capitalize the word “up” in a title that read “Squiggly Looked Up a Word” but not in a title that read “Squiggly Walked up the Mountain.

What about you? What style of title capitalization do you use?